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Charlotte Hornets assure themselves a longer climb for franchise
Walker saga first step in downward spiral
 
Published Sunday, June 30, 2019 10:07 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | TROY HULL
The Charlotte  Hornets’ history of overpaying for role players ultimately cost them a chance to offer a competitive salary to point guard Kemba Walker, left,  the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Walker signed a four-year, $141 million deal with Boston.

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It’s going to be a long winter for Hornets fans.


If Kemba Walker weren’t heading to Boston, the Hornets were still no better than an eighth seed in an increasingly competitive NBA Eastern Conference. Without him, they’re closer to threatening the 2011-12 Bobcats as the worst team in franchise history. Walker, the leading scorer in franchise history, made the right move by getting out of town. He was professional on and off the floor over eight years, played his heart out and put up with a front office that makes fumbling on player personnel an art form.

It’s not fair to put the blame on general manager Mitch Kupchak, who inherited bloated payroll and middling talent that handcuffed his ability to offer Walker anything approximating a five-year, $221 million supermax deal earned as an All-NBA point guard.


Nope, the blame rests at two other pairs of feet: Kupchak’s predecessor Rich Cho, and Hornets owner Michael Jordan. Cho’s overreliance of analytics dropped Charlotte into salary cap purgatory with deals for Marvin Williams, Nic Batum, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that add up to $68 million in salary next season. They’re role players with zero All-Star appearances between them. 

Jordan OKd those overreactions, which ultimately led to the Hornets lowballing Walker during contract talks. They couldn’t afford him, even with a supermax discount. Walker couldn’t afford to stick with a franchise this inept. Nor could shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, who jumped to Indiana for $31 million over three years. Case closed.


Kupchak doesn’t have the economic flexibility to swing for the fences in free agency, and if he did, Charlotte isn’t the kind of place top-tier players are flocking to. His best bet is to build the Hornets the old-fashioned way through drafting smart and let coach James Borrego put them in position to develop. The first step in that scenario – a sign and trade for Boston point guard Terry Rozier – is a gamble.

Rozier, who has never made more than 40 percent of his field goal attempts as a pro, isn’t in Walker’s class as an offensive force. Rozier also took flak for publicly whining about his demotion behind Kyrie Irving, whose attitude was also called into question despite being the Celtics’ centerpiece.


Perhaps Rozier, who reportedly signed a three-year, $58 million deal to become a Hornet, will find peace and accuracy here, but it’s a lot to expect him to play up to Walker’s standard. Borrego will try to squeeze more potential out of youngsters Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, Malik Monk and 2019 first-round pick P.J. Washington. Bridges and Graham showed flashes of potential last year as rookies, but they’ll have to make a huge leap to make this crew a playoff contender.


The Hornets have some explaining to do, especially to their fans who are upset at how the Walker saga played out. They wanted Jordan and Kupchak to do everything possible to keep the Hornets’ best player and face of the franchise. He’s making the best money of his career in Boston now. Get accustomed to it, and a long, cold winter at Spectrum Center.


Comments

The Hornets are building a championship team. Terry Rozier is the piece this team needed for the future. Kemba will never lead an NBA team to the finals. It's not in his DNA. Rozier has a Kobe Bryant killer instinct mentality. I just hope that when the hornets win the NBA Championship you are brave enough to admit your true lack of understanding of this Hornets team.
Posted on July 1, 2019
 

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